Calling all introverts! This one’s for you.
In her TED Talk, ‘The power of introverts,’ Susan Cain notes that major institutions—schools, workplaces—are designed for extroverts. And she might be onto something. These institutions typically require ample face-to-face interactions, some chit-chat, and overall, substantial human stimulation.
Do you ever have a question but are resistant to speaking up?
Does being amongst lots of people drain your battery more quickly than being with just a few others (or by yourself)?
Do you find yourself in your head, contemplating, more often than speaking aloud?
Do you feel exhausted after being in a highly stimulated environment, but relaxed after spending time in a quiet, more relaxed space?
If you answered yes to these questions, you’re probably an introvert. And contrary to popular belief, that’s not a negative thing!
As an introverted student, though, you may face difficulties finding your place in school. As noted, the traditional classroom is seemingly more catered to extroverted students. Furthermore, whether you’re more introverted or extroverted is usually related to your unique learning style.
This means that your ability to learn is directly linked to where you fall on the introversion-extroversion scale. And whether or not your teacher caters to this can impact your quality of learning.
A COVID-19 silver lining for introverts
When the pandemic reared its head, online learning and remote work rapidly emerged as new normals.
There seemed to be a notion that online classes were (and are) a lesser alternative to in-person classes. And there was some truth to this belief, as it’s clear that students were struggling in the online classroom.
But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that some students were thriving—and notably, performed better than they ever had in traditional classes.
Why is this?
Teachers and researchers believe that introversion and extroversion might have something to do with it.
Lo and behold, a longitudinal study following 484 US college students found that extroverts tended to face a mood decline during the early pandemic period, while introverts experienced a slight incline.
As it stands, the components and nature of e-learning and the personality traits of introverts may be a match made in heaven.
1. E-learning requires limited small talk
If you are, in fact, an introvert, small talk probably gives you the ick. It may seem unnecessary, intimidating, and/or downright dreadful. And yes, I do hear from time to time that no one truly enjoys small talk.
But the difference here is that typically, introverts actually become anxious and even debilitated at the thought of small talk—while for many extroverts, it’s simply a less-than-ideal activity (but something that they’re still confident about because they often thrive in high-stimulation situations).
And in the physical classroom, small talk is often a requirement—or at least, a norm or expectation. For instance it’s probably typical to chat to the student next to you about your week, and make small talk with students near you when working on projects.
In the virtual classroom, you aren’t physically among others—which means there’s less pressure to engage in small talk. You don’t have peers sitting on either side of you, and you can work on an art project alone, without conversing.
2. E-learning is more self-paced
Comparing introverts and extroverts, you might come to the conclusion that extroverts are outgoing, while introverts are shy. However, it’s a bit more complex than that. Rather than simply not having anything to say, introverts tend to contemplate and reflect more. These individuals often feel that they need some time to think before speaking. Essentially, they tend to prefer speaking up in environments where there’s less stimulation and less immediate pressure.
The result is that in a physical classroom, introverts may avoid raising their hands, which means their questions frequently go unanswered—but also, their insights go unheard.
With e-learning, you often engage through forums and written responses. This means that you have the time to contemplate and then respond. Ultimately, this system takes the pressure off students to get their thoughts out right away.
Plus, another upside is that the flexible deadlines and self-paced nature of the online classroom cater to the introvert’s innate desire for independence.
3. E-learning is often more writing-based
With e-learning, it’s often easier to conduct discussions in forums, since there’s limited Zoom time. On the contrary, in an in-person classroom, conversations can be more rapid. For introverts, this can be difficult, since they tend to think for longer before they’re ready to share.
With more written discussions, these students can think before contributing. And, they can organize their thoughts since they have the time to read and carefully follow the discussion, and then craft their own ideas.
4. E-learning enables students to recharge
Rather than just being shy or lone-wolves, there’s actually a reason why introverts gravitate toward solitary, quiet environments. Contrary to extroverts, introverts feel drained after too much social interaction, and instead draw their energy from alone time.
This means that in a classroom full of students, introverts tend to get exhausted more quickly than their extroverted friends. For an introvert, that downtime, enabling them to recharge, is critical.
And e-learning provides just that. With online learning, students usually face several periods through the day where it’s just them, alone.
Ultimately, it takes more energy for an introvert to be amongst a group of people than alone. So solitude is key for recharging energy. In fact, introverted students may develop anxiety when around many people. But when they get to pick their location and company, they feel more comfortable, less distracted by their anxieties—and are thus more productive.
5. E-learning provides students with processing time
As mentioned, introverted students often hesitate to put their hand up in the classroom—this is frequently because they desire time and space to think before speaking.
As noted, in the online classroom, you likely engage through forums and discussion posts—which usually eliminate that high-pressure raise-your-hand moment. Students can allocate some of their time for contemplating, and developing an answer with which they feel confident.
The introversion vs. extroversion misconception
Often, we misunderstand introversion vs. extroversion. That is, we may place negative connotations around introversion, assuming that introverted students don’t have much to say and/or don’t really like to be around people.
While there’s some truth to that (introverts do tend to enjoy their solitary time more than extroverts), it’s also a generalization and somewhat misleading.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung was the pioneer of using “introversion” and “extroversion”—which he referred to as basic personality traits. But today, we tend to refer to introverts and extroverts as those who have little to say vs. those who have a lot to say.
In reality, introverts may have a lot to say. The thing is, in comparison to extroverts, they get their energy from solitary time, and often express themselves in non-verbal forms (often art-forms). Meanwhile, extroverts tend to thrive in situations with a ton of people.
Introversion and extroversion really just describe the ways in which people respond to stimulation. A classroom full of people is going to drain intoverts’ energy more quickly than a quiet room.
According to The Ariel Group, common introvert characteristics include:
- Thinking carefully before speaking
- A preference for one-on-one interactions rather than presenting in front of large groups
- The ability to ask thoughtful questions and to listen carefully in response
- A frustration with settings that demand an extroverted approach to communication
So, it seems that online learning very well may offer introverts a space that is more conducive to learning than traditional classrooms.
“The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself,”
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Lydia Schapiro